Have you ever wished that you could have the power to control a space station itself? Well developer No Code and publisher Devolver Digital have built their new game Observation in order to let you live out that fantasy. Observation is a sci-fi thriller that takes place in the year 2026 and has you taking control of a space station that just so happens to be called the Observation.
When I say you play as the space station I mean you play as the AI of it which is called S.A.M (which stands for Systems, Administration, and Maintenance.) Something very bad has occurred on the Observation and it is up to you as S.A.M. to follow the story of a woman named Emma Fisher and discover what has happened to her and her crew. S.A.M. itself has been damaged in this incident having suffered memory data loss and loss of various functionalities. Emma will try to repair these things but you’ll have to help her along the way. The question is: can you trust Emma?
Observation is yet another one of those games that is hard to talk about without spoiling anything. It tells a great tale though and keeps you wondering and guessing what will happen next. I mean from the start your memory has been wiped so you have to wonder what exactly happened onboard the Observation? Is Emma a friend or a foe? What really happened to the rest of the crew? The game steadily revealed answers to my many questions over the course of the seven hours it took me to finish it and by the end I was left wholly satisfied with the story. Also while this game is a thriller it doesn’t really come at you with jump scares or things like that. Instead it’s the slow build up and the constant sense of dread and tension that gives you that horror feeling.
Exploring this space station as S.A.M. is pretty cool as you are able to navigate it by jumping from camera to camera. You have to assist Emma in repairing systems onboard this space station and gathering information on what has happened. You can help her by jumping around from camera to camera to open doors for her to proceed, finding computer terminals and documents to scan important information from, and repairing various things on the station. Drones can also be piloted in parts of the game and some of these will even take you to the vacuum of space. It isn’t just the internal systems that need repairing but the external parts too. Piloting the drones in these parts takes some getting use to but they were enjoyable nonetheless.
Observation isn’t just about jumping around cameras as you’ll have to do some puzzle solving as well. The puzzles in the game help break up the regular gameplay and did a great job of making me feel even more like an AI that is trying to bring systems back online. There’s a good variety of different puzzle types and all of them are pretty well designed. One puzzle will have you trying to bring power back on in a certain part and you’ll have to dig into some information in various places to gather the information required. Other puzzles may involve time limits or math problems. Most of the puzzles aren’t too hard to figure out for someone with at least a little bit of patience but a few others could’ve used a bit more clarity and some seemed to be a bit buggy. In regards to my clarity statement some puzzles just had me going around too long just clicking on various things to try and solve the problem. There really isn’t much here for a hint system so just guessing is all I could do at times. The buggy statement is in relation to a couple times where I clearly did what I was supposed to do to solve something only for the game to not register that I had completed it. I kept trying and trying and didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. Eventually I just decided to restart from my last save point and try again and then the game properly registered me completing the objective. They were minor annoyances sure but ones I would’ve preferred not having to encounter.
The graphical presentation of Observation is amazing and quite frankly astonishing given how small a team No Code is. You could easily mistake this as a game from a bigger publisher. The station itself is breathtakingly detailed and character models like Emma’s look realistic. Some things aren’t quite as up to snuff though such as the body movements and lip-syncing but Observation is otherwise a pretty impressive visual feat. The music and sound effects fit the tone and style of this game too such as the flickering and static that you’ll encounter in the station’s camera systems. The voice acting is solid and and the whole audio package adds to that eerie feeling throughout. For those interested in the trophy list on PS4 I have to sadly confirm that it doesn’t have a Platinum trophy. The game only has 11 trophies in total with it being a relatively easy completion.
What No Code has achieved here with Observation is pretty impressive for a team of their size. It tells a captivating, sci-fi story that kept me playing from start to finish in one sitting. Getting to experience it from the view of a space station AI was different from what many other games out there offer and it avoids letting it’s exploratory gameplay grow stale by mixing in interesting and fun puzzle gameplay. Some of those puzzles could’ve been a bit more clear and there were a few bugs in the system along the way. Despite those minor things though Observation is a must play for fans of science fiction stories.
*Observation is out now on PlayStation 4 and PC. Reviewed on a PS4 Pro. Review copy provided by the publisher for this review.
- Features a Tense, Gripping Sci-fi Story that takes its Time Unraveling
- Absolutely Nails the Space Station Aesthetic
- Fun Gameplay that Mixes it Up with Some Interesting and Fun Puzzle Solving
- Strong Audio Package
- Some Puzzles Were Too Obtuse and Others Were a Bit Buggy
- Body and Facial Animations Don't Look as Good as Everything Else